Part 4 out of 7
Palace--to see with her own eyes if her orders were obeyed. With hard
words, and threats of instant dismissal, she aroused her sleeping
household. No refuge could hide an offender--no hole, however dark,
could conceal so much as a kitchen-boy.
The marchesa's eye penetrated everywhere. From garret to cellar she
knew the dimensions of every cupboard--the capacity of each nook--the
measure of the very walls. Woe to the unlucky sleeper! his slumbers
from that hour were numbered; she watched him as if he had committed a
When the marchesa, as I have said, was aroused by a knock, she sat up
stiffly, and rubbed her eyes before she would say, "Enter." When she
spoke the word, the door slowly opened, and Cavaliere Trenta
stood before her. Never had he presented himself in such an abject
condition; he was panting for breath; he leaned heavily on his
gold-headed cane; his snowy hair hung in disorder about his forehead,
deep wrinkles had gathered on his face; his eyes were sunk in their
sockets, and his white lips twitched nervously, showing his teeth.
"Cristo!" exclaimed the marchesa, fixing her keen eyes upon him, "you
are going to have a fit!"
Trenta shook his head slowly.
The marchesa pulled a chair to her side. The cavaliere sank into it
with a sigh of exhaustion, put his hand into his pocket, drew out his
handkerchief, placed it before his eyes, and sobbed aloud.
"Trenta--Cesarino!"--and the marchesa rose, laid her long, white
fingers on his shoulder--it was a cruel hand, spite of its symmetry
and aristocratic whiteness--"what does this mean? Speak, speak! I hate
mystification. I order you to speak!" she added, imperiously. "Have
you seen Count Marescotti?"
"What does he say? Is the marriage arranged?"
Trenta shook his head. If his life had depended upon it he could not
have uttered a single word at that moment. His sobs choked him. Tears
ran down his aged cheeks, moistening the wrinkles and furrows now so
apparent. He was in such a piteous condition that even the marchesa
was softened as she looked at him.
"If all this is because the marriage with Count Marescotti has failed,
you are a fool, Trenta! a fool, do you hear?" And she leaned over him,
tightened her hand upon his shoulder, and actually shook him.
Trenta submitted passively.
"On the whole, I am very glad of it. Do you hear? You talked me over,
Cesarino; I have repented it ever since. Count Marescotti is not the
man I should have selected for raising up heirs to the Guinigi. Now
don't irritate me," she continued, with a disdainful glance at the
cavaliere. "Have done with this folly. Do you hear?"
"Enrica, Enrica!" groaned Trenta, who, always accustomed to obey
her, began wiping his eyes--they would, however, keep overflowing--"O
marchesa! how can I tell you?"
"Tell me what?" demanded the marchesa, sternly.
Her breath came short and quick, her thin face grew set and rigid.
Like a veteran war-horse, she scented the battle from afar!
"Ah! if you only knew all!" And a great spasm passed over the
cavaliere's frame. "You must prepare yourself for the worst."
The marchesa laughed--a short, contemptuous laugh--and shrugged her
"Enrica, Enrica--what can she do?--a child! She cannot compromise me,
or my name."
"Enrica has compromised both," cried Trenta, roused at last from
his paroxysm of grief. "Enrica has more than compromised it; she
has compromised all the Guinigi that ever lived--you, the palace,
herself--every one. Enrica has a lover!" The marchesa bounded from her
chair; her face turned livid in the waning light.
"Who told you this?" she asked, in a strange, hollow voice, without
turning her eyes or moving a muscle of her face.
"Count Marescotti," answered Trenta, meekly.
He positively cowered beneath the pent-up wrath of the marchesa.
"Who is the man?"
"Yes, Count Nobili."
With a great effort she commanded herself, and continued interrogating
"How did Marescotti hear it?"
"From common report. It is known all over Lucca."
"Was this the reason that Count Marescotti declined to marry my
The marchesa spoke in the same strange tone, but she fixed her eyes
savagely on Trenta, so as to be able to convince herself how far he
might dare to equivocate.
"That was a principal reason," replied the cavaliere, in a faltering
voice; "but there were others."
"What are the others to me? The dishonor of my niece is sufficient."
There was a desperate composure about the marchesa, more terrible than
"Her dishonor! God and all the saints forbid!" retorted Trenta,
clasping his hands. "Marescotti did not speak of dishonor."
"But I speak of dishonor!" shrieked the marchesa, and the pent-up
rage within her flashed out over her face like a tongue of fire.
"Dishonor!--the vilest, basest dishonor! What do I care "--and she
stamped her foot loudly on the brick floor--"what do I care what
Nobili has done to her? By that one fact of loving him she has soiled
this sacred roof." The marchesa's eyes wandered wildly round the room.
"She has soiled the name I bear. I will cast her forth into the street
to beg--to starve!"
And as the words fell from her lips she stretched out her long arm and
bony finger as in a withering curse.
"But, ha! ha!"--and her terrible voice echoed through the empty
room--"I forgot. Count Nobili loves her; he will keep her--in luxury,
too--and in a Guinigi palace!" She hissed out these last words. "She
has learned her way there already. Let her go--go instantly," the
marchesa's hand was on the bell. "Let her go, the soft-voiced viper!"
The transport of fury which possessed the marchesa had had the effect
of completely recalling Trenta to himself. For his great age, Trenta
possessed extraordinary recuperative powers, both of body and mind.
Not only had he so far recovered while the marchesa had been speaking
as to arrange his hair and his features, and to smoothe the creases
of his official coat into something of their habitual punctilious
neatness, but he had had time to reflect. Unless he could turn
the marchesa from her dreadful purpose, Enrica (still under all
circumstances his beloved child) would infallibly be turned into the
street by her remorseless aunt.
At the moment that the marchesa had laid her hand upon the bell,
Trenta darted forward and tore it from her hand.
"For the love of the Virgin, pause before you commit so horrible an
So sudden had been his movement, so unwonted his energy, that the
marchesa was checked in the very climax of her passion.
"If you have no mercy on a child that you have reared at your side,"
exclaimed Trenta, laying his hand on hers, "spare yourself, your name,
your house, such a scandal! Is it for this that you cherish the name
of the great Paolo Guinigi, whose acts were acts of clemency and
wisdom? Is it for this you honor the memory of Castruccio Castracani,
who was called the 'father of the people?' Bethink you, marchesa, that
they lived under this very roof. You dare not--no, not even you--dare
not tarnish their memories! Call Enrica here. It is the barest justice
that the accused should be heard. Ask her what she has done? Ask her
what has passed? How she has met Count Nobili? Until an hour ago I
could have sworn she did not even know him."
"Ay, ay," burst out the marchesa, "so could I. How did she come to
"That is precisely what we must learn," continued Trenta, eagerly
seizing on the slightest abatement of the marchesa's wrath. "That is
what we must ask her. Marchesa, in common decency, you cannot put
your own niece out of your house without seeing her and hearing her
"You may call her, if you please," answered the marchesa, with a look
of dogged rage; "but I warn you, Cesare Trenta, if she avows her love
for Nobili in my presence, I shall esteem that in itself the foulest
crime she can commit. If she avows it, she leaves my house to-night.
Let her die!--I care not what becomes of her!"
The Cavaliere Trenta, without an instant's delay, seized the bell and
rang it. The broken-down retainer, in his suit of well-worn livery,
shuffled in through the anteroom.
"What did the excellency command?" he asked in a dreary voice, as the
marchesa did not address him.
"Tell the signorina that the Marchesa Guinigi desires her presence
immediately," answered the cavaliere, promptly. He would not give her
an opportunity of speaking.
"Her excellency shall be obeyed," replied the servant, still
addressing himself to the marchesa. He bowed, then glided noiselessly
from the room.
A door is heard to open, then to shut; a bell is rung; there is a
muttered conversation in the anteroom, and the sound of receding
footsteps; then a side-door in the corner of the sitting-room near the
window opens; there is the slight rustle of a summer dress, and Enrica
stands before them.
It is the same hour of sunset as when she had sat there three days
before, knitting beside the open casement, with the twisted marble
colonnettes and delicate tracery. The same subtile fragrance of the
magnolia rises upward from the waxy leaves of the tall flowering trees
growing beneath in the Moorish garden. The low rays of the setting sun
flit upon her flaxen hair, defining each delicate curl, and sharply
marking the outline of her slight girlish figure; the slender waist,
the small hands. Even the little foot is visible under the folds of
her light dress.
Enrica's face is in shadow, but, as she raises it and sees the
cavaliere seated beside her aunt, a quiet smile plays about her mouth,
and a gleam of pleasure rises in her eyes.
What is it that makes youth in Italy so fresh and beautiful--so lithe,
erect, and strong? What gives that lustre to the eye, that ripple to
the hair, that faultless mould to the features, that mellowness to the
skin--like the ruddy rind of the pomegranate--those rounded limbs that
move with sovereign ease--that step, as of gods treading the earth?
Is it the color of the golden skies? Is it a philter brewed by the
burning sunshine? or is it found in the deep shadows that brood in
the radiance of the starry night? Is it in those sounds of music
ever floating in the air? or in the solemn silence of the
primeval chestnut-woods? Does it come in the crackling of the
mountain-storm--in the terror of the earthquake? Does it breathe from
the azure seas that belt the classic land--or in the rippling
cadence of untrodden streams amid lonely mountains? Whence comes
it?--how?--where? I cannot tell.
The marchesa is seated on her accustomed seat; her face is shaded by
her hand. So stern, so solemn, is her attitude that her chair seems
suddenly turned into a judgment-seat.
The cavaliere has risen at Enrica's entrance. Not daring to display
his feelings in the presence of the marchesa, he thrusts his hands
into his pockets, and stands behind her, his head partly turned away,
leaning against the edge of the marble mantel-piece. There is such
absolute silence in the room that the ticking of a clock is distinctly
heard. It is the deadly pause before the slaughter of the battle. "You
sent for me, my aunt?" Enrica speaks in a timid voice, not moving from
the spot where she has entered, near the open window. "What is your
"My pleasure!" the marchesa catches up and echoes the words with a
horrible jeer. (She had been collecting her forces for attack; she had
lashed herself into a transport of fury. Her smooth, snake-like
head was reared erect; her upright figure, too thin to be majestic,
stiffened. Thunder and lightning were in her eyes as she turned them
on Enrica.) "You dare to ask me my pleasure! You shall hear it, lost,
miserable girl! Leave this house--go to your lover! Let it be the
motto of his low-born race that a Nobili dishonored a Guinigi. Go--I
wish you were dead!" and she points with her finger toward the door.
Every word that fell from the marchesa sounded like a curse. As she
speaks, the smiles fade out of Enrica's face as the lurid sunlight
fades before the rising tempest. She grasps a chair for support. Her
bosom heaves under the folds of her thin white dress. Her eyes, which
had fixed themselves on her aunt, fall with an agonized expression on
the floor. Thus she stands, speechless, motionless, passive; stunned,
as it were, by the shock of the words.
Then a low cry of pain escapes her, a cry like the complaint of a dumb
animal--the bleat of a lamb under the butcher's knife.
"Have I not reared you as my own child?" cries the marchesa--too
excited to remain silent in the presence of her victim. "Have you ever
left my side? Yet under my ancestral roof you have dared to degrade
yourself. Out upon you!--Go, go--or with my own hand I shall drive you
into the street!"
She starts up, and is rushing upon Enrica, who stands motionless
before her, when Trenta steps forward, puts his hand firmly on the
marchesa's arm, and draws her back.
"You have called Enrica here," he whispers, "to question her. Do
so--do so. Look, she is so overcome she cannot speak," and he points
to Enrica, who is now trembling like an aspen-leaf, her fair head
bowed upon her bosom, the big tears trickling down her white cheeks.
When the marchesa, checked by Trenta, has ceased speaking, Enrica
raises her heavy eyelids and turns her eyes, swimming in tears,
upon her aunt. Then she clasps her hands--the small fingers knitting
themselves together with a grasp of agony--and wrings them. Her lips
move, but no sound comes from them. Something there is so pitiful in
this mute appeal--she looks so slight and frail in the background of
the fading sunlight--there is such a depth of unspoken pathos in
every line of her young face--that the marchesa pauses; she pauses ere
putting into execution her resolve of turning Enrica herself, with her
own hands, from the palace.
A new sentiment has also within the last few minutes arisen within
her--a sentiment of curiosity. The marchesa is a woman; in many
respects a thorough woman. The first flash of fury once passed, she
feels an intense longing to know how all this had come about. What had
passed? How had Enrica met Nobili? Whether any of her household had
betrayed her? On whom her just vengeance shall fall?
Each moment that passes as the quick thoughts rattle through her
brain, it seems to her more and more imperative that she should inform
herself what had really happened under her roof!
At this moment Enrica speaks in a low voice.
"O my aunt! I have done nothing! Indeed, indeed,"--and a great sob
breaks in and cuts her speech. "I have done nothing."
"What!" cries the marchesa, her fury again roused by such a daring
assertion. "What do you call nothing? Do you deny that you love
"No, my aunt. I love him--I love him."
The mention of Nobili's name gave Enrica courage. With that name
the sunlit days of meeting came back again. A gleam of their divine
refraction swam before her. Nobili--is he not strong, and brave, and
true? Is he not near at hand? Oh, if he only knew her need!--oh, if he
could only rush to her--bear her in his arms away--away to untrodden
lands of love and bliss where she could hide her head upon his breast
and be at peace!
All this gave her courage. She passes her hand over her face and
brushes the tears away. Her blue eyes, that shine out now like a rent
in a cloudy sky, are meekly but fearlessly cast upon her aunt.
"You dare to tell me you love him--you dare to avow it in my presence,
degraded girl! have you no pride--no decency?"
"I have done nothing," Enrica answers in the same voice, "of which
I am ashamed. From the first moment I saw him I loved him. I
loved--him--oh! how I loved him!" She repeats this softly, as if
speaking to herself. An inner light shines over her whole countenance.
"And Nobili loves me. I know it." Her voice sounds sweet and firm. "He
"Fool, you think so; you are but one of many!" The marchesa, incensed
beyond endurance at her firmness, raises her head with the action of
a snake about to spring upon its prey. "Dare you deny that you are his
(Could the marchesa have seen the cavaliere standing behind her, at
that moment, and how those eyes of his were riveted on Enrica with a
look in which hope, thankfulness, pity, and joy, crossed and combated
together--mercy on us! she would have turned and struck him!)
The shock of the words overcame Enrica. She fixes her eyes on her aunt
as if not understanding their meaning. Then a deep blush covers her
from head to foot; she trembles and presses both her hands to her
bosom as if in pain.
"Spare her, spare her!" is heard in less audible sounds from Trenta to
the marchesa. The marchesa tosses her head defiantly.
"I am to be Count Nobili's wife," Enrica says at last, in a faltering
voice. "The Holy Mother is my witness, I have done nothing wrong. I
have met him in the cathedral, and at the door of the Moorish garden.
He has written to me, and I have answered."
"Doubtless; and you have met him alone?" asked the marchesa, with a
"Never, my aunt; Teresa was always with me."
"Teresa, curse her! She shall leave the house as naked as she came
into it. How many other of my servants did you corrupt?"
"Not one; it was known to her and to me only."
"And why not to me, your guardian? why not to me?" And the marchesa
advances step by step toward Enrica, as the bitter consciousness of
having been hoodwinked by such a child fills her with fresh rage. "You
have deceived me--I who have fed and clothed and nourished you--I who,
but for this, would have endowed you with all I have, bequeathed to
you a name greater than that of kings! Answer me this, Enrica. Leave
off wringing your hands and turning up your eyes. Answer me!"
"My aunt, I was afraid."
"Afraid!" and the marchesa laughs a loud and scornful laugh; "you were
not, afraid to meet this man in secret."
"No. Fear him! what had I to fear? Nobili loves me."
The word was spoken. Now she had courage to meet the marchesa's
gaze unmoved, spite of the menace of her look and attitude. Enrica's
conscience acquitted her of any wrong save the wrong of concealment,
"Had you asked me," she adds, more timidly, "I should have spoken. You
have asked me now, and I have told you."
The very spirit of truth spoke in Enrica. Not even the marchesa could
doubt her. Enrica had not disgraced the name she bore. She believed
her; but there was a sting behind sharper to her than death. That
sting remained. Enrica had confessed her love for the man she hated!
As to the cavaliere, the difficulty he experienced at this moment in
controlling his feelings amounted to positive agony. His Enrica is
safe! San Riccardo be thanked! She is safe--she is pure! Except
his eyes, which glowed with the secret ecstasy he felt, he appeared
outwardly as impassive as a stone. The marchesa turned and reseated
herself. There is, spite of her violence, an indescribable majesty
about her as she sits erect and firm upon her chair in judgment on her
niece. Right or wrong, the marchesa is a woman born to command.
"It is not for me," she says, with lofty composure, "to reason with
a love-sick girl, whose mind runs to the tune of her lover's name.
Of all living men I abhor Count Nobili. To love him, in my eyes, is
a crime--yes, a crime," she repeats, raising her voice, seeing that
Enrica is about to speak. "I know him--he is a vain, purse-proud
reprobate. He has come and planted himself like a mushroom within our
ancient walls. Nor did this content him--he has had the presumption to
lodge himself in a Guinigi palace. The blood in his veins is as mud.
That he cannot help, nor do I reproach him for it; but he has forced
himself into our class--he has mingled his name with the old names of
the city; he has dared to speak--live--act--as if he were one of us.
You, Enrica, are the last of the Guinigi. I had hoped that a child I
had reared at my side would have learned and reflected my will--would
have repaid me for years of care by her obedience."
"O my aunt!" exclaims Enrica, sinking on her knees, "forgive
me--forgive me! I am ungrateful."
"Rise," cries the marchesa, sternly, not in the least touched by this
outburst of natural feeling. "I care not for words--your acts show you
have defied me. The project which for years I have silently nursed
in my bosom, waiting for the fitting time to disclose it to you--the
project of building up through you the great Guinigi name."
The marchesa pauses; she gasps, as if for breath. A quick flush steals
over her white face, and for a moment she leans back in her chair,
unable to proceed. Then she presses her hand to her forehead, on which
the perspiration had risen in beads.
"Alas! I did not know it!" Enrica is now sobbing bitterly. "Why--oh!
why, did you not trust me?"
In a strange, weary-sounding voice the marchesa continues:
"Let us not speak of it. Enrica"--she turns her gray eyes full
upon her, as she stands motionless in front of the pillared
casement--"Enrica, you must choose. Renounce Nobili, or prepare to
enter a convent. His wife you can never be."
As a shot that strikes a brightly-plumaged bird full in its
softly-feathered breast, so did these dreadful words strike Enrica.
There is a faint, low cry, she has fallen upon the floor!
The marchesa did not move, but, looking at her where she lay, she
slowly shook her head. Not so the cavaliere. He rushed forward, and
raised her tenderly in his arms. The tears streamed down his aged
"Take her away!" cried the marchesa; "take her away! She has broken my
WHAT CAME OF IT.
When Cavaliere Trenta returned, after he had led away Enrica, and
consigned her to Teresa, he was very grave. As he crossed the room
toward the marchesa, he moved feebly, and leaned heavily on his stick.
Then he drew a chair opposite to her, sat down, heaved a deep sigh,
and raised his eyes to her face.
The marchesa had not moved. She did not move now, but sat the picture
of hard, haughty despair--a despair that would gnaw body and soul, yet
give no sigh. But the cavaliere was now too much absorbed by Enrica's
sufferings to affect even to take much heed of the marchesa.
"This is a very serious business," he began, abruptly. "You may
have to answer for that girl's life. I shall be the first to witness
Never in her life had the marchesa heard Cesare Trenta deliver himself
of such a decided censure upon her conduct. His wheedling, coaxing
manner was all gone. He was neither the courtier nor the counselor.
He neither insinuated nor suggested, but spoke bluntly out bold words,
and those upon a subject she esteemed essentially her own. Even in the
depth of her despondency it made a certain impression upon her.
She roused herself and glared at him, but there was no shrinking in
his face. Trenta's clear round eyes, so honest and loyal in their
expression, seemed to pierce her through and through. She fancied,
too, that he contemplated her with a sort of horror.
"You have accused Enrica," he continued; "she has cleared herself. You
cannot doubt her. Why do you continue to torture her?"
"That is my affair," answered the marchesa, doggedly. "She has
deceived me, and defied me. She has outraged the usages of society. Is
not that enough?"
"You have brought her up to fear you," interrupted Trenta. "Had she
not feared you, she would never have deceived you."
"What is that to you? How dare you question me?" cried the marchesa,
the glitter of passion lighting up her eyes. "Is it not enough that
by this deception she has foiled me in the whole purpose of my life? I
have given her the choice. Resign Nobili, or a convent."
Saying this, she closed her lips tightly. Trenta, in the heat of his
enthusiasm for Enrica, had gone too far. He felt it; he hastened to
rectify his error.
"Every thing that concerns you and your family, Marchesa Guinigi, is a
subject of overwhelming interest to me."
Now the cavaliere spoke in his blandest manner. The smoothness of
the courtier seemed to unknit the wrinkles on his face. The look of
displeasure melted out of his eyes, the roughness fled from his voice.
"Remember, marchesa, I am your oldest friend. A crisis has arrived; a
scandal may ensue. You must now decide."
"I have decided," returned the marchesa; "that decision you have
heard." And again her lips closed hermetically.
"But permit me. There are many considerations that will doubtless
present themselves to you as necessary ingredients of this decision.
If Enrica goes into religion, the Guinigi race is doomed. Why should
you, with your own hand, destroy the work of your life? If Enrica will
not consent to renounce her engagement to Count Nobili, why should she
not marry him? There is no real obstacle other than your will."
No sooner were these daring words uttered, than the cavaliere
positively trembled. The marchesa listened to them in ominous silence.
Such a possibility had never presented itself for a instant to her
imagination. She turned slowly round, pressed her hands tightly on her
knees, and darkly eyed him.
"You think that I should consent to such a marriage?" she asked in a
deep voice, a mocking smile upon her lips.
"I think, marchesa, that you should sacrifice every thing--yes--every
thing." And Trenta, feeling himself on safe ground, repeated the word
with an audacity that would have surprised those who only knew him
in the polite details of ordinary life. "I think that you should
sacrifice every thing to the interests of your house."
This was hitting the marchesa home. She felt it and winced; but her
resolution was unshaken.
"Did I not know that you are descended from a line as ancient, though
not so illustrious as my own, I should think I was listening to a Jew
peddler of Leghorn," she replied, with insolent cynicism.
The cavaliere felt deeply offended, but had the presence of mind to
affect a smile, as though what she had said was an excellent joke.
"Nobili shall never mix his blood with the Guinigi--I swear it! Rather
let our name die out from the land."
She raised both her hands in the twilight to ratify the imprecation
she had hurled upon her race. Her voice died away into the corner of
the darkening room; her thoughts wandered. She sat in spirit upon the
seigneurial throne, below, in the presence-chamber. Should Nobili sit
there, on that hallowed seat of her ancestors?--the old Lombard
palace call him master, living--gather his bones with their ashes,
dead?--Never! Better far moulder into ruin as they had mouldered. Had
she not already permitted herself to be too much influenced? She had
offered Enrica in marriage to Count Marescotti, and he had refused
her--refused her niece!
Suddenly she shook off the incubus of these thoughts and turned toward
Trenta. He had been watching her anxiously.
"I can never forgive Enrica," she said. "She may not have disgraced
herself--that matters little--but she has disgraced me. She must enter
a convent; until then I will allow her to remain in my house."
"Exactly," burst in Trenta, again betrayed into undue warmth by this
The cavaliere was old; he had seen that life revolves itself strangely
in a circle, from which we may diverge, but from which we seldom
disentangle ourselves. Desperate resolves are taken, tragedies are
planned, but Fate or Providence intervenes. The old balance pendulates
again--the foot falls into the familiar step. Death comes to cut the
Gordian knot. The grave-sod covers all that is left, and the worm
feeds on the busy brain.
As a man of the world, Trenta was a profound believer in the chapter
"I will not put Enrica out of my house," resumed the marchesa,
gazing at him suspiciously. (Trenta seemed, she thought, wonderfully
interested in Enrica's fate. She had noticed this interest once
before. She did not like it. What was Enrica to him? Trenta was _her_
friend.) "But she shall remain on one condition only--Nobili's name
must never be mentioned. You can inform her of this, as you have taken
already so much upon yourself. Do you hear?"
"Certainly, certainly," answered the chamberlain with alacrity. "You
shall be obeyed. I will answer for it--excellent marchesa, you are
right, always right"--and he stooped down and gently took her thin
fingers in his fat hands, and touched them with his lips.
"I will cause no scandal," she continued, withdrawing her hand. "Once
in a convent, Enrica can harm no one."
"No, certainly not," responded Trenta, "and the family will become
extinct. This palace and its precious heirlooms will be sold."
The marchesa put out her hand with silent horror.
"It is the case with so many of our great families," continued the
impassable Trenta. "Now, on the other hand, Enrica may possibly change
her mind; Nobili may change his mind. Circumstances quite unforeseen
may occur--who can answer for circumstances?"
The marchesa listened silently. This was always a good sign; she
was too obstinate to confess herself convinced. But, spite of her
prejudices, her natural shrewdness forbade her to reject absolutely
the voice of reason.
"I shall not treat Enrica cruelly," was her reply, "nor will I cause a
scandal, but I can never forgive her. By this act of loving Nobili she
has separated herself from me irrevocably. Let her renounce him; she
has her choice--mine is already made."
The cavaliere listened in silence. Much had been gained, in his
opinion, by this partial concession. The subject had been broached,
the hated name mentioned, the possibility of the marriage mooted. He
rose with a cheerful smile to take his leave.
"Marchesa, it is late--permit me to salute you; you must require
"Yes," she answered, sighing deeply. "It seems to me a year since I
entered this room. I must leave Lucca. Enrica cannot, after what
has passed, remain here. Thanks to her, I, in the solitude of my own
palace, am become the common town-talk. Cesare, I shall leave Lucca
to-morrow for my villa of Corellia. Good-night."
The cavaliere again kissed her hand and departed.
"If that weathercock of a thousand colors, that idiot, Marescotti,"
muttered the cavaliere, as he descended the stairs, "could only be got
to give up his impious mission, and marry the dear child, all might
yet be right. He has an eye and a tongue that would charm a woman
into anything. Alas! alas! what a pasticcio!--made by herself--made by
herself and her lawsuits about the defunct Guinigi--damn them!"
It was seldom that the cavaliere used bad words--excuse him.
A LONELY TOWN.
The road from Lucca to Corellia lies at the foot of lofty mountains,
over-mantled by chestnut-forests, and cleft asunder by the river
Serchio--the broad, willful Serchio, sprung from the flanks of virgin
fastnesses. In its course a thousand valleys open up, scoring the
banks. Each valley has its tributary stream, down which, even in the
dog-days, cool breezes rustle. The lower hills lying warm toward the
south, and the broad glassy lands by the river, are trellised with
vines. Some fling their branches in wild festoons on mulberry or aspen
trees. Some trained in long arbors are held up by pillars of unbarked
wood; others trail upon the earth in delicious luxuriance. The white
and purple grapes peep from the already shriveled leaves, or hang in
rich masses on the brown earth.
It is the vintage. The peasants, busy as bees, swarm on the
hill-sides; the women pluck the fruit; the men bear it away in wooden
measures. While they work, they sing those wild Tuscan melodies that
linger in the air like long-drawn sighs. The donkeys, too, climb up
and down, saddled with wooden panniers, crammed with grapes. These
grapes are shot into large tubs, and placed in a shady outhouse. Some
black-eyed boy will dance merrily on these tubs, by-and-by, with his
naked feet, and squeeze out the juice. This juice is then covered and
left to ferment, then bottled into flasks, covered with wicker-work,
corked with tow, and finally stowed away in caves among the rocks.
The marchesa's lumbering coach, drawn by three horses harnessed
abreast (another horse, smaller than the rest, put in tandem in
front), creaks along the road by the river-side, on its high wheels.
She sits within, a stony look upon her hard white face. Enrica, pale
and silent, is beside her. No word has passed between them since they
left Lucca two hours ago. They pass groups of peasants, their labors
over for the day--turning out of the vineyards upon the high-road. The
donkeys are driven on in front. They are braying for joy; their faces
are turned homeward. Boys run at their heels, and spur them on with
sticks and stones. The women lag behind talking--their white head-gear
and gold ear-rings catching the low sunshine that strikes through
rents of parting mountains. Every man takes off his hat to the
marchesa; every woman wishes her good-day.
It is only the boys who do not fear her. They have no caps to raise;
when the carriage has passed, they leave the donkeys and hang on
behind like a swarm of bees. The driver is quite aware of this, and
his long whip, which he has cracked at intervals all the way from
Lucca--would reach the grinning, white-toothed little vagabonds well;
but he--the driver--grins too, and spares them.
Together they all mount the zigzag mountain-pass, that turns short off
from the right bank of the valley of the Serchio, toward Corellia. The
peasants sing choruses as they trudge upward, taking short cuts among
the trees at the angles of the zigzag. The evening lights come and go
among the chestnut-trees and on the soft, short grass. Here a fierce
flick of sunshine shoots across the road; there deep gloom darkens an
angle into which the coach plunges, the peasants, grouped on the top
of a bank overhead, standing out darkly in the yellow glow.
It is a lonely pass in the very bosom of the Apennines, midway between
Lucca and Modena. In winter the road is clogged with snow; nothing can
pass. Now, there is no sound but the singing of water-falls, and the
trickle of water-courses, the chirrup of the _cicala_, not yet gone
to its rest--and the murmur of the hot breezes rustling in the distant
No sound--save when sudden thunder-pelts wake awful echoes among the
great brotherhood of mountain-tops--when torrents burst forth, pouring
downward, flooding the narrow garden ledges, and tearing away the patches
of corn and vineyard, the people's food. Before--behind--around--arise
peaks of purple Apennines, cresting upward into the blue sky--an earthen
sea dashed into sudden breakers, then struck motionless. In front, in
solitary state, rises the lofty summit of La Pagna, casting off its giant
mountain-fellows right and left, which fade away into a golden haze toward
High up overhead, crowning a precipitous rock, stands Corellia, a
knot of browned, sun-baked houses, flat-roofed, open-galleried,
many-storied, nestling round a ruined castle, athwart whose rents the
ardent sunshine darts. This ruined castle and the tower of an ancient
Lombard church, heavily arched and galleried with stone, gleaming
out upon a surface of faded brickwork, form the outline of the little
town. It is inclosed by solid walls, and entered by an archway so low
that the marchesa's driver has to dismount as he passes through. The
heavy old carriage rumbles in with a hollow noise; the horse's hoofs
strike upon the rough stones with a harsh, loud sound.
The whole town of Corellia belongs to the marchesa. It is an ancient
fief of the Guinigi. Legend says that Castruccio Castracani was born
here. This is enough for the marchesa. As in the palace of Lucca, she
still--even at lonely Corellia--lives as it were under the shadow of
that great ancestral name.
Lonely Corellia! Yes, it is lonely! The church bells, high up in the
Lombard tower sound loudly the matins and the eventide. They sound
louder still on the saints days and festivals. With the festivals
pass summer and winter, both dreary to the poor. Children are born,
and marriage-flutes wake the echoes of the mountain solitudes--and
mothers weep, hearing them, remembering their young days and present
pinching want. The aged groan, for joy to them comes like a fresh
The marchesa's carriage passes through Corellia at a foot's pace. The
driver has no choice. It is most difficult to drive at all--the street
is so narrow, and the door-steps of the houses jut out so into the
narrow space. The horses, too, hired at Lucca, twenty miles away, are
tired, poor beasts, and reeking with the heat. They can hardly keep
their feet upon the rugged, slippery stones that pave the dirty
alley. As the marchesa passes slowly by, wan-faced women--colored
handkerchiefs gathered in folds upon their heads, knitting or spinning
flax cut from the little field without upon the mountain-side--put
down the black, curly-headed urchins that cling to their laps--rise
from where they are resting on the door-step, and salute the marchesa
with an awe-struck stare. She, in no mood for condescension, answers
them with a frown. Why have these wan-faced mothers, with scarcely
bread to eat, children between their knees? Why has God given her
none? Again the impious thought rises within her which tempted her
when standing before the marriage-bed in the nuptial chamber. "God is
my enemy." "He has smitten me with a curse." "Why have I no child?"
"No child, nothing but her"--and she flashes a savage glance at
Enrica, who has sunk backward, covering her tear-stained face with
a black veil, to avoid the peering eyes of the Corellia
townsfolk--"nothing but her. Born to disgrace me. Would she were dead!
Then all would end, and I should go down--the last Guinigi--to an
The sick, too, are sitting at the doorways as the marchesa passes
by. The mark of fever is on many an ashy cheek. These sick have been
carried from their beds to breathe such air as evening brings. Air!
There is no air from heaven in these foul streets. No sweet breath
circulates; no summer scents of grasses and flowers reach the lonely
town hung up so high. The summer sun scorches. The icy winds of
winter, sweeping down from Alpine ridges, whistle round the walls.
Within are chilly, desolate hearths, on which no fire is kindled.
These sick, as the carriage passes, turn their weary eyes, and lift up
their wasted hands in mute salutations to that dreaded mistress who is
lord of all--the great marchesa. Will they not lie in the marchesa's
ground when their hour comes? Alas! how soon--their weakness tells
them very soon! Will they not be carried in an open bier up those
long flights of steps--all hers--cut in the rocky sides of overlapping
rocks, to the cemetery, darkly shaded by waving cypresses? The ground
is hers, the rocks, the steps, the stones, the very flowers that
brown, skinny hands will sprinkle on their bier--all hers. From birth
to bridal, and the marriage-bed (so fruitful to the poor), from bridal
to death, all hers. The land they live on, and the graves they fill,
all--but a shadow of her greatness!
At the corner of the squalid, ill-smelling street through which she
is now passing, is the town fountain. This fountain, once a willful
mountain-torrent, now cruelly captured and borne hither by municipal
force, splashes downward through a sculptured circle cut in a
marble slab, into a covered trough below. Here bold-eyed maidens are
gathered, who poise copper vessels on their dark heads--maidens who
can chat, and laugh, and romp, on holidays, and with flushed faces
dance wild tarantellas (fingers for castanets), where the old tale of
love is told in many a subtile step, and shuffle, rush, escape, and
feint, ending in certain capture! Beside the maidens linger some
mountain lads. Now their work is over, they loll against the wall,
pipe in mouth, or lie stretched on a plot of grass that grows green
under the spray of the fountain. In a dark angle, a little behind from
these, there is a shrine hollowed out of the city wall. Within the
shrine an image of the Holy Mother of the Seven Sorrows stands, her
arms outstretched, her bosom pierced by seven gilded arrows. The
shrine is protected by an iron grating. Bunches of pale hill-side
blossoms, ferns, and a few blades of corn, are thrust in between the
bars. Some lie at the Virgin's feet--offerings from those who have
nothing else to give. A little group (but these are old, and bowed by
grief and want) kneel beside the shrine in the quiet evening-tide.
The rumble of a carriage, so strange a sound in lonely Corellia,
rouses all. From year to year, no wheels pass through the town save
the marchesa's. Ere she appears, all know who it must be. The kneelers
at the shrine start up and hobble forward to stare and wonder at that
strange world whence she comes, so far away at Lucca. The maidens
courtesy and smile; the lads jump up, and range themselves
respectfully against the wall; yet in their hearts neither care for
her--neither the maidens nor the lads--no one cares for the marchesa.
They are all looking out for Enrica. Why does the signorina lie back
in the carriage a mass of clothes? The maidens would like to see how
those clothes are made, to cut their poor garments something like
them. The lads would like to let their eyes rest on her golden hair.
Why does the Signorina Enrica not nod and smile to those she knows, as
is her wont? Has that old tyrant, her aunt--these young ones are bold,
and dare to whisper what others think; they have no care, and, like
the lilies of the field, live in the wild, free air--has that old
tyrant, her aunt, bewitched her?
Now the carriage has emerged from the dark alley, and entered the
dirty but somewhat less dark piazza--the market-place of Corellia. The
old Lombard church of Santa Barbara, with its big bells in the arched
tower, hanging plainly to be seen, opens into the piazza by a flight
of steps and a sculptured doorway. The Municipio, too, calling itself
a _palace_ (heaven save the mark!), with its list of births, deaths,
and marriages, posted on a black-board outside the door, to be seen of
all, adorns it. The Cafe of the Tricolor, and such shops as Corellia
boasts of, are there opposite. Men, smoking, and drinking native wine,
are lounging about. Ser Giacomo, the notary, spectacles on nose, sits
at a table in a corner, reading aloud to a select audience a weekly
broad-sheet published at Lucca, news of men and things not of the
mountain-tops. Every soul starts up as they hear wheels approaching.
If a bomb had burst in the piazza the panic could not be greater. They
know it is the marchesa. They know that now the marchesa is come she
will grind and harry them, and seize her share of grapes, and corn,
and olives, to the uttermost farthing. Silvestro, her steward, a
timid, pitiful man, can be got over by soft words, and the sight of
want and misery. Not so the marchesa. They know that now she is come
she will call the Town Council, fine them, pursue them for rent, cite
them to the High Court of Barga, imprison them if they cannot pay.
They know her, and they curse her. The ill-news of her arrival runs
from lip to lip. Checco, the butcher, who sells his meat cut into
dark, indescribably-shaped scraps, more fit for dogs than men, first
sees the carriage turn into the piazza. He passes the word on to
Oreste, the barber round the corner. Oreste, who, with his brother
Pilade, both wearing snow-white aprons, are squaring themselves at
their open doorway, over which hangs a copper basin, shaped like
Manbrino's helmet, looking for customers--Oreste and Pilade turn pale.
Then Oreste tells the baker, Pietro, who, naked as Nature made him,
has run out from his oven to the open door, for a breath of air. The
bewildered clerk at the Municipio, who sits and writes, and sleeps
by turns, all day, in a low room beside a desk, taking notes for the
sindaco (mayor) from all who come (he is so tired, that clerk, he
would hear the last trumpet sound unmoved), even he hears the news,
and starts up.
Now the carriage stops. It has drawn up in the centre of the piazza.
It is the marchesa's custom. She puts her head out of the window, and
takes a long, grave look all round. These are her vassals. They fear
her. She knows it, and she glories in it. Every head is uncovered,
every eye turned upon her. It is obviously some one's duty to salute
her and to welcome her to her domain. She has stopped for this
purpose. It is always done. No one, however, stirs. Ser Giacomo, the
notary, bows low beside the table where he has been caught reading the
Lucca broad-sheet; but Ser Giacomo does not stir. How he wishes he had
staid at home!
He has not the courage to move one step toward her. Something must be
done, so Ser Giacomo he runs and fetches the sindaco from inside the
recesses of the _cafe_, where he is playing dominoes under a lighted
lamp. The sindaco must give the marchesa a formal welcome. The
sindaco, a saddler by trade--a snuffy little man, with a face drawn
and yellow as parchment, wearing his working-clothes--advances to the
carriage with a step as cautious as a cat.
"I trust the illustrious lady is well," he says timidly, bowing low
and trying to smile. Mr. Sindaco is frightened, but he can be proud
enough to his fellow-townsfolk, and he is downright cruel to that poor
lad his clerk, at the Municipal Palace.
The marchesa, with a cold, distant air, that would instantly check
any approach to familiarity--if any one were bold enough to be
familiar--answers gravely, "That she is thankful to say she is in her
The sindaco--although better off than many, painfully conscious of
long arrears of unpaid rent--waxing a little bolder at the sound of
his own voice and his well-chosen phrases, continues:
"I am glad to hear it, Signora Marchesa." The sindaco further
observes, "That he hopes for the illustrious lady's indulgence and
His smile has faded now; his voice trembles. If his skin were not so
yellow, he would be white all over, for the marchesa's looks are not
encouraging. The sindaco dreads a summons to the High Court of Barga,
where the provincial prisons are--with which he may be soon better
acquainted, he fears.
In reply, the marchesa--who perfectly understands all this in a
general way--scowls, and fixes her rigid eyes upon him.
"Signore Sindaco, I cannot stop to listen to any grievance now; I will
promise no indulgence. I must pay my bills. You must pay me, Signore
Sindaco; that is but fair."
The poor little snuffy mayor bows a dolorous acquiescence. He is
hopeless, but polite--like a true Italian, who would thank the hangman
as he fastens the rope round his neck. But the marchesa's words strike
terror into all who hear them. All owe her long arrears of rent, and
much besides. Why--oh! why--did the cruel lady come to Corellia?
Having announced her intentions in a clear, metallic voice, the
marchesa draws her head back into the coach.
"Send Silvestro to me," she adds, addressing the sindaco. "Silvestro
will inform me of all I want to know." (Silvestro is her steward.)
"Is the noble young Lady Enrica unwell?" asks the persevering
sindaco, gazing earnestly through the window.
He knows his doom. He has nothing to hope from the marchesa's
clemency, so he may as well gratify his burning curiosity by a
question about the much-beloved Enrica, who must certainly have been
ill-used by her aunt to keep so much out of sight.
"The people of Corellia would also offer their respectful homage to
her," bravely adds Mr. Sindaco, tempting his fate. "The Lady Enrica is
much esteemed here in the town."
As he speaks the sindaco gazes in wonder at the muffled figure in
the corner. Can this be she? Why does she not move forward and
answer?--and show her pretty face, and approve the people's greeting?
"My niece has a headache; leave her alone," answers the marchesa,
curtly. "Do not speak to her, Mr. Sindaco. She will visit Corellia
another day; meanwhile, adieu."
The marchesa waves her hand majestically, and signs for him to retire.
This the sindaco does with an inward groan at the thought of what is
coming on him.
Poor Enrica, feeling as if a curse were on her, cutting her off
from all her former life, shrinks back deeper into the corner of the
carriage, draws the black veil closer about her face, and sobs aloud.
The marchesa turns her head away. The driver cracks his long whip over
the steaming horses, which move feebly forward with a jerk. Thus the
coach slowly traverses the whole length of the piazza, the wheels
rumbling themselves into silence out in a long street leading to
another gate on the farther side of the town.
Not another word more is said that night among the townsfolk; but
there is not a man at Corellia who does not curse the marchesa in
his heart. Ser Giacomo, the notary, folds up his newspaper in dead
silence, puts it into his pocket, and departs. The lights in the
dark _cafe_, which burn sometimes all day when it is cloudy, are
extinguished. The domino-players disappear. Oreste and Pilade shut up
their shop despondingly. The baker Pietro comes out no more to cool
at the door. Anyway, there must be bakers, he reflects, to bake
the bread; so Pietro retreats, comforted, to his oven, and works
frantically all night. He is safe, Pietro hopes, though he has paid no
rent for two whole years, and has sold some of the corn which ought to
have gone to the marchesa.
Meanwhile the heavy carriage, with its huge leather hood and double
rumble, swaying dangerously to and fro, descends a steep and rugged
road embowered in forest, leading to a narrow ledge upon the summit
of a line of cliffs. On the very edge of these cliffs, formed of a
dark-red basaltic stone, the marchesa's villa stands. A deep, dark
precipice drops down beneath. Opposite is a range of mountains, fair
and forest-spread on the lower flanks, rising above into wild crags,
and broken, blackened peaks, that mock the soft blue radiance of the
WHAT SILVESTRO SAYS.
Silvestro, the steward, is a man "full of conscience," as people say,
deeply sensible of his responsibilities, and more in dread of the
marchesa than of the Church. It is this dread that makes him so
emaciated--hesitate when he speaks, and bend his back and shoulders
into a constant cringe. But for this dread, Silvestro would forgive
the poor people more. He sees such pinching misery every day--lives in
it--suffers from it; how can he ask those for money who have none?
It is like forcing blood out of a stone. He is not the man to do it.
Silvestro lives at hand; he hears the rattle of the hail that burns
the grapes up to a cinder--the terrible din of the thunder before the
forked lightning strikes the cattle; he sees with his own eyes the
griping want of bread in the savage winter-time; his own eyes behold
the little lambs, dead of hunger, lying by the road-side. Worse still,
he sees other lambs--human lambs with Christian souls--fade and pine
and shrink into a little grave, from failing of mother's milk, dried
up for want of proper food. He sees, too, the aged die before God
calls them, failing through lack of nourishment--a little wine,
perhaps, or a mouthful of soup; the young and strong grow old with
ceaseless striving. Poor Silvestro! he sees too much. He cannot be
severe. He is born merciful. Silvestro is honest as the day, but he
hides things from the marchesa; he is honest, but he cannot--no, he
cannot--grind and vex the poor, as she would have him do. Yet she has
no one to take his place in that God-forgotten town--so they pull on,
man and mistress--a truly ill-matched pair--pull on, year after
year. It is a weary life for him when the great lady comes up for her
villeggiatura--Silvestro, divided, cleft in twain, so to say, as he
is, between his awe and respect for the marchesa and her will, and his
terrible sympathy for all suffering creatures, man or beast.
As to the marchesa, she despises Silvestro too profoundly to notice
his changing moods. It is not her habit to look for any thing but
obedience--absolute obedience--from those beneath her. A thousand
times she has told herself such a fool would ruin her; but, up to this
present time, she has borne with him, partly from convenience, and
partly because she fears to get a rogue in his place. She does not
guess how carefully Silvestro has hid the truth from her; she would
not give him credit for the power of concealing any thing.
The sindaco having sent a boy up to Silvestro's house with the
marchesa's message, "that he is to attend her," the steward comes
hurrying down through the terraces cut in the steep ground behind the
villa--broad, stately terraces, with balustrades, and big empty vases,
and statues, and grand old lemon-trees set about. Great flights of
marble steps cross and recross, rest on a marble stage, and then
recross again. Here and there a pointed cypress-tree towers upward
like a green pyramid in a desert of azure sky. Bright-leaved autumn
flowers lie in masses on the rich brown earth, and dainty streamlets
come rushing downward in little sculptured troughs.
What a dismal sigh Silvestro gave when he got the marchesa's message,
and knew that she had arrived! How he wrung his hands and looked
hopelessly upward to heaven with vacant, colorless eyes, the big
heat-drops gathering on his bald, wrinkled forehead! He has so much to
tell her!--It must be told too; he can hide the truth no longer. She
will be sure to ask to see the accounts. Alas! alas! what will his
mistress say? For a moment Silvestro gazes wistfully at the mountains
all around with a vacant stare. Oh, that the mountains would
cover him! Anyway, there are caves and holes, he thinks, where the
marchesa's wrath would never reach him; caves and holes where he might
live hidden for years, cared for by those who love him. Shall he flee,
and never see his mistress's dark, dreadful eyes again? Folly!
Silvestro rouses himself. He resolves to meet his fate like a man,
whatever that may be. He will not forsake his duty.--So Silvestro
comes hurrying down by the terraces, upon which the shadows fall, to
the house--a gray mediaeval tower, machicolated and turreted--the only
remains of a strong fortress that in feudal times guarded these passes
from Modena into Tuscany. To this gray tower is attached a large
modern dwelling--a villa--painted of a dull-yellow color, with an
overlapping roof, the walls pierced full of windows. The tower, villa,
and the line of cliffs on which they stand, face east and west; on
one side the forest and Corellia crowning a rocky height, on the other
side mountains, with a deep abyss at the foot of the cliffs, yawning
between. It is the marchesa's pleasure to inhabit the old tower rather
than the pleasant villa, with its big windows and large, cheerful
Being tall and spare, Silvestro stoops under the low, arched doorway,
heavily clamped with iron and nails, leading into the tower; then he
mounts very slowly a winding stair of stone to the second story. The
sound of his footsteps brings a whole pack of dogs rushing out upon
(On the gravel before the house there is a fountain springing up out
of a marble basin full of gold-fish. Pots are set round the edge with
the sweetest-smelling flowers--tuberoses, heliotropes, and gardenias.)
The dogs, barking loudly, run round the basin and upset some of the
pots. One noble mastiff, with long white hair and strong straight
limbs--the leader of the pack--pursues Silvestro up the dark, tiring
stairs. When the mastiff has reached him and smelt at him he stands
still, wags his tail, and thrusts his nose into Silvestro's hand.
"Poor Argo!" says the steward, meekly. "Don't bark at me; I cannot
bear it now."
Argo gives a friendly sniff, and leaves him.
At a door on the right, Silvestro stops short, to collect his thoughts
and his breath. He has not seen his mistress for a year. His soul
sinks at the thought of what he must tell her now. "Can she punish
me?" he asks himself, vaguely. Perhaps. He must bear it if she does.
He has done all he can. Consoled by this reflection, he knocks. A
well-known voice answers, "Come in." Silvestro's clammy hand is on the
lock--a worm-eaten door creaks on its hinges--he enters.
The marchesa nods to Silvestro without speaking. She is seated before
a high desk of carved walnut-wood, facing the door. The desk is
covered with papers. A file of papers is in her hand; others lie upon
her lap. All round there are cupboards, shelves, and drawers, piled
with papers and documents, most of them yellow with age. These consist
of old leases, contracts, copies of various lawsuits with her tenants,
appeals to Barga, mortgages, accounts. The room is low, and rounded to
the shape of the tower. Naked joists and rafters of black wood support
the ceiling. The light comes in through some loop-holes, high up, cut
in the thickness of the wall. Some tall, high-backed chairs, covered
with strips of faded satin, stand near the chimney. A wooden bedstead,
without curtains, is partly concealed behind a painted screen, covered
with gods and goddesses, much consumed and discolored from the damp.
As the room had felt a little chilly from want of use, a large fire of
unbarked wood had been kindled. The fire blazes fiercely on the flat
stones within an open hearth, unguarded by a grate.
Having nodded to Silvestro, the marchesa takes no further notice
of him. From time to time she flings a loose paper from those lying
before her--over her shoulder toward the fire, which is at her back.
Of these papers some reach the fire; others, but half consumed, fall
back upon the floor. The flames of the wood-fire leap out and seize
the papers--now one by one--now as they lie in little heaps. The
flames leap up; the burning papers crumple along the floor, in little
streaks of fire, catching others that lie, still farther on in the
room, still unconsumed. Ere these papers have sunk into ashes, a fresh
supply, thrown over her shoulder by the marchesa, have caught the
flames. All the space behind her chair is covered with smouldering
papers. A stack of wood, placed near to replenish the fire, has
caught, and is smouldering also. The fire, too, on the hearth is
burning fiercely; it crackles up the wide open chimney in a mass of
smoke and sparks.
The marchesa is far too much absorbed to notice this. Silvestro,
standing near the door--the high desk and the marchesa's tall figure
between him and the hearth--does not perceive it either. Still the
marchesa bends over her papers, reading some and throwing others over
her shoulders into the flames behind.
Silvestro, who had grown hot and cold twenty times in a minute,
standing before her, his book under his arm--thinking she had
forgotten him--addresses her at last.
"How does madama feel?" Silvestro asks most humbly, turning his
lack-lustre eyes upon her, "Well," is the marchesa's brief reply. She
signs to him to lay his book upon her desk. She takes it in her hand.
She turns over the pages, following line after line with the tip of
her long, white forefinger.
"There seems very little, Silvestro," she says, running her eyes up
and down each page as she turns it slowly over. Her brow knits until
her dark eyebrows almost meet--"very little. Has the corn brought in
so small a sum, and the olives, and the grapes?"
"Madama," begins Silvestro, and he bends his head and shoulders,
and squeezes his skinny hands together, in a desperate effort to
obliterate himself altogether, if possible, in the face of such
mishaps--"madama will condescend to remember the late spring frosts.
There is no corn anywhere. Upon the lowlands the frost was most
severe; in April, too, when the grain was forward. The olives bore a
little last season, but Corellia is a cold place--too cold for olives;
the trees, too, are very old. This year there will be no crop at all.
As for the grapes--"
"_Accidente_ to the grapes!" interrupts the marchesa, reddening. "The
grapes always fail. Every thing fails under you."
Silvestro shrinks back in terror at the sound of her harsh voice. Oh,
that those purple mountains around would cover him! The moment of her
wrath is come. What will she say to him?
"I wish I had not an acre of vineyard," the marchesa continues.
"Disease, or hail, or drought, or rain, it is always the same--the
grapes always fail."
"The peasants are starving, madama," Silvestro takes courage to say,
but his voice is low and muffled.
"They have chestnuts," she answers quickly, "let them live on
Silvestro starts violently. He draws back a step or two nearer the
"Let the gracious madama consider, many have not even a patch of
chestnuts. There is great misery, madama--indeed, there is great
misery." Silvestro goes on to say. He must speak now or never.
"Madama"--and he holds up his bony hands--"you will have no rent at
all from the peasants. They must be kept all the winter."
"Silvestro, you are a fool," cries the marchesa, eying him
contemptuously, as she would a troublesome child--"a fool; pray how am
I to keep the peasants, and pay the taxes? I must live."
"Doubtless, excellent madama." Silvestro was infinitely relieved at
the calmness with which the marchesa received his announcement. He
could not have believed it. He feels most grateful to her. "But, if
madama will speak with Fra Pacifico, he will tell her how bitter the
distress must be this winter. The Town Council"--Silvestro, deceived
by her apparent calmness, has made a mistake in naming the Town
Council. It is too late. The words have been spoken. Knowing his
mistress's temper, Silvestro imperceptibly glides toward the door as
he mentions that body--"The Town Council has decreed--" His words die
away in his throat at her aspect.
"Santo dei Santi!" she screams, boiling over with rage, "I forbid you
to talk to me of the Town Council!"
Silvestro's hand is upon the lock to insure escape.
"Madama--consider," pleads Silvestro, wellnigh desperate. "The Town
Council might appeal to Barga," Silvestro almost whispers now.
"Let them--let them; it is just what I should like. Let them appeal.
I will fight them at law, and beat them in full court--the ruffians!"
She gives a short, scornful laugh. "Yes, we will fight it out at
Suddenly the marchesa stops. Her eyes have now reached the
balance-sheet on the last page. She draws a long breath.
"Why, there is nothing!" she exclaims, placing her forefinger on
the total, then raising her head and fixing her eyes on
Silvestro shrinks, as it were, into himself. He silently bows his head
in terrified acquiescence.
"A thousand francs! How am I to live on a thousand francs!"
Silvestro shakes from head to foot. One hand slides from the lock; he
joins it to the other, clasps them both together, and sways himself to
and fro as a man in bodily anguish.
At the sight of the balance-sheet a kind of horror has come over the
marchesa. So intense is this feeling, she absolutely forgets to
abuse Silvestro. All she desires is to get rid of him before she has
betrayed her alarm.
"I shall call a council," she says, collecting herself; "I shall take
the chair. I shall find funds to meet these wants. Give the sindaco
and Ser Giacomo notice of this, Silvestro, immediately."
The steward stares at his mistress in mute amazement. He inclines his
head, and turns to go; better ask her no questions and escape.
"Silvestro!"--the marchesa calls after him imperiously--"come here."
(She is resolved that he, a menial, shall see no change in her.) "At
this season the woods are full of game. I will have no poachers, mind.
Let notices be posted up at the town-gate and at the church-door--do
you hear? No one shall carry a gun within my woods."
Silvestro's lips form to two single words, and these come very faint:
"The poor!" Then he holds himself together, terrified.
"The poor!" retorts the marchesa, defiantly--"the poor! For shame,
Silvestro! They shall not overrun my woods and break through my
vineyards--they shall not! You hear?" Her shrill voice rings round the
low room, "No poachers--no trespassers, remember that; I shall tell
Adamo the same. Now go, and, as you pass, tell Fra Pacifico I want him
to-morrow." ("He must help me with Enrica," was her thought.)
When Silvestro was gone, a haggard look came over the marchesa's pale
face. One by one she turned over the leaves of the rental lying before
her, glanced at them, then laid the book down upon the desk. She
leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms, and fell into a fit of
musing--the burning papers on the hearth, and those also smouldering
on the floor, lighting up every grain in the wood-work of the
cupboards at her back.
This was ruin--absolute ruin! The broad lands that spread wellnigh for
forty miles in the mountains and along the river Serchio--the feudal
tower in which she sat, over which still floated, on festivals, the
banner of the Guinigi (crosses of gold on a red field--borne at
the Crusades); the stately palace at Lucca--its precious
heirlooms--strangers must have it all!
She had so fortified herself against all signs of outward emotion,
other than she chose to show, that even in solitude she was composed;
but the veins swelled in her forehead, and she turned very white. Yet
there had been a way. "Enrica"--her name escaped the marchesa's thin
lips unwittingly. "Enrica."--The sound of her own voice startled
her. (Enrica was now alone, shut up by her aunt's order in her
little chamber on the third floor over her own. On their arrival, the
marchesa had sternly dismissed her without a word.)
"Enrica."--With that name rose up within her a thousand conflicting
thoughts. She had severed herself from Enrica. But for Cavaliere
Trenta she would have driven her from the palace. She had not cared
whether Enrica lived or died--indeed, she had wished her dead. Yet
Enrica could save the land--the palace--make the great name live! Had
she but known all this at Lucca! Was it too late? Trenta had urged the
marriage with Count Nobili. But Trenta urged every marriage. Could she
consent to such a marriage? Own herself ruined--wrong?--Feel Nobili's
foot upon her neck?--Impossible! Her obstinacy was so great, that she
could not bring herself to yield, though all that made life dear was
slipping from her grasp.
Yes--yes, it was too late.--The thing was done. She must stand to
her own words. Tortures would not have wrung it from her--but in the
solitude of that bare room the marchesa felt she had gone too far.
The landmark of her life, her pride, broke down; her stout heart
failed--tears stood in her dark eyes.
At this moment the report of a gun was heard ringing out from the
mountains opposite. It echoed along the cliffs and died away into
the abyss below. The marchesa was instantly leaning out of the lowest
loop-hole, and calling in a loud voice, "Adamo--Adamo--Angelo, where
are you?" (Adamo and Pipa his wife, and Angelo their son, were her
Adamo, a stout, big-limbed man, bull-necked--with large lazy eyes and
a black beard as thick as horse-hair, a rifle slung by a leather strap
across his chest, answered out of the shrubs--now blackening in the
twilight: "I am here, padrona, command me."
"Adamo, who is shooting on my land?"
"Padrona, I do not know."
"Where is Angelo?"
"Here am I," answered a childish voice, and a ragged, loose-limbed
lad--a shock of chestnut hair, out of which the sun had taken all
the color, hanging over his face, from which his merry eyes
twinkle--leaped out on the gravel.
"You do not know, Adamo? What does this mean? You ought to know. I am
but just come back, and there are strangers about already with guns.
Is this the way you serve me, Adamo?--and I pay you a crown a month.
You idle vagabond!"
"Padrona," spoke Adamo in a deep voice--"I am here alone--this boy
helps me but little."
"Alone, Adamo! you dare to say alone, and you have the dogs? Hear how
they bark--they have heard the shot too--good dogs, good dogs, they
are left me--alone.--Argo is stronger than three men; Argo knocks over
any one, and he is trained to follow on the scent like a bloodhound.
Adamo, you are an idiot!" Adamo hung his head, either in shame or
rage, but he dared not reply.
"Now take the dogs out with you instantly--you hear, Adamo? Argo, and
Ponto the bull-dog, and Tuzzi and the others. Take them and go down at
once to the bottom of the cliffs. Search among the rocks everywhere.
Creep along the vines-terraces, and through the olive-grounds. Be sure
when you go down below the cliffs to search the mouth of the chasm.
Go at once. Set the dogs on all you find. Argo will pin them. He is a
brave dog. With Argo you are stronger than any one you will meet. If
you catch any men, take them at once to the municipality. Wretches,
they deserve it!--poaching in my woods! Listen--before you go, tell
Pipa to come to me soon."
Pipa's footsteps came clattering up the stairs to the marchesa's room.
The light of the lamp she carried--for it was already dark within
the tower--caught the spray of the fountain outside as she passed the
narrow slits that served for windows.
"Pipa," said the marchesa, as she stood before her in the doorway, a
broad smile on her merry brown face, "set that lamp on the desk here
before me. So--that will do. Now go up-stairs and tell the Signorina
Enrica that I bid her 'Good-night,' and that I will see her to-morrow
morning after breakfast. Then you may go to bed, Pipa. I am busy,
and shall sit up late." Pipa curtsied in silence, and closed the
WHAT CAME OF BURNING THE MARCHESA'S PAPERS.
Midnight had struck from the church-clock at Corellia. The strokes
seemed to come slower by night than day, and sounded hollower. Hours
ago the last light had gone out. The moon had set behind the cleft
summits of La Pagna. Distant thunder had died away among the rocks.
The night was close and still. The villa lay in deep shadow, but the
outline of the turrets of the tower were clearly marked against the
starry sky. All slept, or seemed to sleep.
A thin blue vapor curls out from the marchesa's casement. This vapor,
at first light as a fog-drift, winds itself upward, and settles into a
cloud, that hovers in the air. Each moment the cloud rises higher
and higher. Now it has grown into a lurid canopy, that overhangs the
tower. A sudden glow from an arched loop-hole on the second story
shows every bar of iron across it. This is caught up below in a broad
flash across the basin of the fountain. Within there is a crackling
as of dry leaves--a clinging, heavy smell of heated air. Another and
another flame curls round the narrow loop-hole, twisting upward on the
At this instant there is a low growl, as from a kicked dog. A door
below is banged-to and locked. Then steps are heard upon the gravel.
It is Adamo. He had returned, as the marchesa bade him, and has come
to tell her he has searched everywhere--down even to the reeds by the
river Serchio (where he had discharged his gun at a water-hen), but
had found no one, though all the way the dogs had sniffed and whined.
Adamo catches sight of the crimson glare reflected upon the fountain.
He looks up at the tower--he sees the flames. A look of horror comes
into his round black eyes. Then, with a twitch, settling his gun
firmly upon his shoulder, he rushes to the unlocked door and flings it
"Pipa! Wife! Angelo!" Adamo shouts down the stone passage connecting
the tower with the villa where they slept. "Wake up! The tower is on
fire! Fire! Fire!"
As Adam opened his mouth, the rush of hot air, pent upon the winding
stair, drawn downward by the draught from the open door, catches
his breath. He staggers against the wall. Then the strong man shook
himself together--again he shouts, "Pipa! Pipa! rise!"
Without waiting for an answer, putting his hand over his mouth, Adamo
charges up the stone stairs--up to the marchesa's door. Her room is on
"I must save her! I must save her! I will think of Pipa and the
Each step Adamo takes upward, the heat grows fiercer, the smoke that
pours down denser. Twice he had slipped and almost fallen, but he
battles bravely with the heat and blinding smoke, and keeps his
Now Adamo is on the landing of the first floor--Adamo blinded, his
head reeling--but lifting his strong limbs, and firm broad feet, he
struggles upward. He has reached the marchesa's door. The place is
marked by a chink of fire underneath. Adamo passes his hand over the
panel; it is unconsumed, the fire drawing the other way out by the
"O God! if the door is bolted! I shall drop if I am not quick."
Adamo's fingers were on the lock. "The door is bolted! Blessed Virgin,
He unslings his unloaded gun--he had forgotten it till then--and,
tightly seizing it in his strong hands, he flings the butt end against
the lock. The wood is old, the bolt is loose.
"Holy Jesus! It yields! It opens!"
Overcome by the rush of fiery air, again Adamo staggers. As he lifts
his hands to raise the hair, which, moist from heat, clings to his
forehead, his fingers strike against a medal of the Virgin he wore
round his naked throat.
"Mother of God, help me!" A desperate courage seizes him; he rushes
in--all before him swims in a red mist. "Help me, Madonna!" comes to
his parched lips. "O God, where is the marchesa?"
A puff of wind from the open door for an instant raised the smoke
and sparks; in that instant Adamo sees a dark heap lying on the floor
close to the door. It is the marchesa. "Is she dead or alive?" He
cannot stop to tell. He raises her. She lay within his arms. Her dark
dress, though not consumed, strikes hot against his chest. Not an
instant is to be lost. The fresh rush of air up the stairs has fanned
the flames. Every moment they are rising higher. They redden on the
dark rafters of the ceiling. The sparks fly about in dazzling clouds.
Adamo is on the threshold. Outside it is now so dark that, spite of
danger, he has to pause and feel his way downward, or he might dash
his precious burden against the walls. In that pause a piercing
cry from above strikes upon his ear, but in the crackling of the
increasing flames and a fresh torrent of smoke and burning sparks
that burst out from the room, Adamo's brain--always of the dullest--is
deadened. He forgets that cry. All his thought is to save his
mistress. Even Pipa and Angelo and little Gigi are forgotten.
Ere he reaches the level of the first story, the alarm-bell over his
head clangs out a goodly peal. A bound of joy within his honest heart
gives him fresh courage.
"It is the Madonna! When I touched her image, I knew that she would
help me. Pipa has heard me. Pipa has pulled the bell. She is safe! And
Angelo--and little Gigi, safe! safe! Brave Pipa! How I love her!"
Before a watch could tick twenty seconds, and while Adamo's foot was
still on the last round of the winding stair, the church-bells of
Corellia clash out in answer to the alarm-bell.
Now Adamo has reached the outer door. He stands beneath the stars. His
face and hands are black, his hair is singed; his woolen clothes are
hot and burn upon him. The cool night air makes his skin smart with
pain. Already Pipa's arms are round him. Angelo, too, has caught him
by the legs, then leaps into the air with a wild hoot. Bewildered Pipa
cannot speak. No more can Adamo; but Pipa's clinging arms say more
than words. Tenderly Adamo lays the marchesa down beside the fountain.
He totters on a step or two, feeling suddenly giddy and strangely
weak. He stands still. The strain had been too much for the simple
soul, who led a quiet life with Pipa and the children. Tears rise in
his big black eyes. Greatly ashamed, and wondering what has come to
him, he sinks upon the ground. Pipa, watching him, again flings her
arms about him; but Adamo gave her a glance so fierce, as he points to
the marchesa lying helpless upon the ground, it sent her quickly from
him. With a smothered sob Pipa turns away to help her.
(Ah! cruel Pipa, and is your heart so full that you have forgotten
Enrica, left helpless in the tower?--Yet so it was. Enrica is
forgotten. Cruel, cruel Pipa! And stupid Adamo, whose head turns round
so fast he must hold on by a tree not to fall again.)
Silvestro and Fra Pacifico now rushed out of the darkness; Fra
Pacifico aroused out of his first sleep. He had not seen the marchesa
since her arrival. He did not know whether Enrica had come with her
from Lucca or not. Seeing Pipa busy about the fountain, the women,
thought Fra Pacifico, were safe; so Fra Pacifico strode off on his
strong legs to see what could be done to quench the fire, and save,
if possible, the more combustible villa. Surely the villa must be
consumed! The smoke now darkened the heavens. The flames belted the
thick tower-walls as with a burning girdle. Showers of sparks and
flames rose out from each aperture with sudden bursts, revealing every
detail on the gray old walls; moss and lichen, a trail of ivy that
had forced itself upward, long grass that floated in the hot air; a
crevice under the battlements where a bird had built its nest. Then
a swirl of smoke swooped down and smothered all, while overhead the
mighty company of constellations looked calmly down in their cold
A crowd of men now came running down from Corellia, roused by the
church-bells. Pietro, the baker, still hard at work, was the first to
hear the bell, to dash into the street, and shout, "Help! help! Fire!
fire! At the villa!"
Oreste and Pilade heard him. They came tumbling out. Ser Giacomo
roused the sindaco--who in his turn woke his clerk; but when Mr.
Sindaco was fairly off down the hill, this much-injured and very weary
youth turned back and went to bed.
Some bore lighted torches, others copper buckets. Pietro, the butcher,
brought the municipal ladder. These men promptly formed a line down
the hill, to carry the water from the willful mountain-stream that
fed the town fountain. Fra Pacifico took the lead. (He had heard the
alarm, and had rung the church-bells himself.) No one cared for the
marchesa; but a burning house was a fine sight, and where Fra Pacifico
went all Corellia followed. Adamo, recovered now, was soon upon the
ladder, receiving the buckets from below. Pipa beside the fountain
watched the marchesa, sprinkling water on her face. "Surely her
eyelids faintly quiver!" thinks Pipa.--Pipa watched the marchesa
speechless--watched her as birth and death are only watched!
The marchesa's eyes had quivered; now they slowly unclose. Pipa, who,
next to the Virgin and the saints, worshiped her mistress--laughed
wildly--sobbed--then laughed again--kissed her hand, her
forehead--then pressed her in her arms. Supported by Pipa, the
marchesa sat up--she turned, and then she saw the mountains of smoke
bursting from the tower, forming into great clouds that rose over the
tree-tops, and shut out the stars. The marchesa glanced quickly round
with her keen, black eyes--she glanced as one searching for some thing
she cannot find; then her lips parted, and one word fell faintly from
Pipa caught the half-uttered name, she echoed it with a scream.
"Ahi! The signorina! The Signorina Enrica!"
Pipa shouted to Adamo on the ladder.
"Adamo! Adamo! where is the signorina?"
Adamo's heart sank at her voice. On the instant he recalled that cry
he had heard upon the stairs.
"Where did you see her last?" Adamo shouted back to Pipa out of the
din--his big stupid eyes looking down upon her face. "Up-stairs?"
Pipa nodded. She could not speak, it was too horrible.
"Santo Dio! I did not know it!" He struck upon his breast. "Assassin!
I have killed her! Assassin! Beast! what have I done?"
Again the air rang with Pipa's shrill cries. The Corellia men, who
with eager hands pass the buckets down the hill, stop, and stare, and
wonder. Fra Pacifico, who had eyes and ears for every one, turned, and
ran forward to where Pipa sat wringing her hands upon the ground, the
marchesa leaning against her.
"Is Enrica in the tower?" asked Fra Pacifico.
"Yes, yes!" the marchesa answered feebly. "You must save her!"
"Then follow me!" shouted the priest, swinging his strong arms above
Adamo leaped from the ladder. Others--they were among the very
poorest--stepped out and joined him and the priest; but at the very
entrance they were met and buffeted by such a gust of fiery wind, such
sparks and choking smoke, that they all fell back aghast. Fra Pacifico
alone stood unmoved, his tall, burly figure dark against the glare. At
this instant a man wrapped in a cloak rushed out of the wood, crossed
the red circle reflected from the fire, and dashed into the archway.
"Stop him! stop him!" shouted Adamo from behind.
"You go to certain death!" cried Fra Pacifico, laying his hand upon
"I am prepared to die," the other answered, and pushed by him.
Twice he essayed to mount the stairs. Twice he was driven back before
them all. See! He has covered his head with his cloak. He has set his
foot firmly upon the stone steps. Up, up he mounts--now he is gone!
Without there was a breathless silence. "Who is he?--Can he save
her?"--Words were not spoken, but every eye asked this question. The
men without are brave, ready to face danger in dark alley--by stream
or river--or on the mountain-side. Danger is pastime to them, but each
one feels in his own heart he is glad not to go. Fra Pacifico stands
motionless, a sad stern look upon his swarthy face. For the first time
in his life he has not been foremost in danger!
By this time, Fra Pacifico thinks, unless choked, the stranger must be
near the upper story.
The marchesa has now risen. She stands upright, her eyes riveted on
the tower. She knows there is a door that opens from the top of the
winding stair, on the highest story, next Enrica's room, a door out on
the battlements. Will the stranger see it? O God! will he see
it?--or is the smoke too thick?--or has he fainted ere he reached
so high?--or, if he has reached her, is Enrica dead? How heavy
the moments pass--weighted with life or death! Look, look! Surely
something moves between the turrets of the tower! Yes, something
moves. It rises--a muffled form between the turrets--the figure of a
man wrapped in a cloak--on the near side out of the smoke and flames.
Yes--it is the stranger--Enrica in his arms! All is clearly seen,
cut as it were against a crimson background. A shout rises from every
living man--a deep, full shout as out of bursting hearts that vent
themselves. Out of the shout the words ring out--"The steps!--the
steps!--There--to the right--cut in the battlements! The steps!--the
steps!--close by the flagstaff! Pass the steps down to the lower roof
of the villa" (The wind set on the other side, drawing the fire that
way. The villa was not touched.)
The stranger heard and bowed his head. He has found the steps--he has
reached the lower roof of the villa--he is safe!
No one below had moved. The hands by which the water was passed
were now laid upon the ladder. It was shifted over to the other side
against the villa walls. Adamo and Fra Pacifico stand upon the lower
rungs, to steady it. The stranger throws his cloak below, the better
"Who is he?" That strong, well-knit frame, those square shoulders,
that curly chestnut hair, the pleasant smile upon his glowing face,
proclaim him. It is Count Nobili! He has lands along the Serchio,
between Barga and Corellia, and was well known as a keen sportsman.
"Bravo! bravo! Evviva! Count Nobili--evviva!" Caps were tossed into
the air, hands were wildly clapped, friendly arms are stretched out to
bear him up when he descends. Adamo is wildly excited; Adamo wants
to mount the ladder to help. The others pull him back. Fra Pacifico
stands ready to receive Enrica, a baffled look on his face. It is the
first time Fra Pacifico has stood by and seen another do his work.
See, Count Nobili is on the ladder, Enrica in his arms! As his feet
touch the ground, again the people shout: "Bravo! Count Nobili!
Evviva!" Their hot southern blood is roused by the sight of such noble
daring. The people press upon him--they fold him in their arms--they
kiss his hands, his cheeks, even his very feet.
Nobili's eyes flash. He, too, forgets all else, and, with a glance
that thrills Enrica from head to foot, he kisses her before them all.
The men circle round him. They shout louder than before.
As the crowd parted, the dark figure of the marchesa, standing near
the fountain, was disclosed. Before she had time to stir, Count Nobili
had led Enrica to her. He knelt upon the ground, and, kissing Enrica's
hand, placed it within her own. Then he rose, and, with that grace
natural to him, bowed and stood aside, waiting for her to speak.
The marchesa neither moved nor did she speak. When she felt the warm
touch of Enrica's hand within her own, it seemed to rouse her. She
drew her toward her and kissed her with more love than she had ever
"I thank you, Count Nobili," she said, in a strange, cold voice. Even
at that moment she could not bring herself to look him in the face.
"You have saved my niece's life."
"Madame," replied Nobili, his sweet-toned voice trembling, "I have
saved my own. Had Enrica perished, I should not have lived."
In these few words the chivalric nature of the man spoke out. The
marchesa waved her hand. She was stately even now. Nobili understood
her gesture, and, stung to the very soul, he drew back.
"Permit me," he said, haughtily, before he turned away, "to add my
help to those who are laboring to save your house."
The marchesa bowed her head in acquiescence; then, with unsteady
steps, she moved backward and seated herself upon the ground.
Pipa, meanwhile, had flung her arms about Enrica, with such an energy
that she pinned her to the spot. Pipa pressed her hands about Enrica,
feeling every limb; Pipa turned Enrica's white face up ward to the
blaze; she stroked her long, fair hair that fell like a mantle round
"Blessed Mother!" she sobbed, drawing her coarse fingers through the
matted curls, "not a hair singed! Oh, the noble count! Oh, how I love
"No, dear Pipa," Enrica answered, softly, "I am not hurt--only
frightened. The fire had but just reached the door when he came. He
was just in time."
"To think we had forgotten her!" murmured Pipa, still holding her
"Who remembered me first?" asked Enrica, eagerly.
"The marchesa, signorina, the marchesa. She remembered you. The
marchesa was brought down by Adamo. Your name was the first word she
Enrica's blue eyes glistened. In an instant she had disengaged herself
from Pipa, and was kneeling at the marchesa's feet.
"Dear aunt, forgive me. Now that I am saved, forgive me! You must
forgive me, and forgive him, too!"
These last words came faint and low. The marchesa put her finger on
"Not now, Enrica, not now. To-morrow we will speak."
Meanwhile Count Nobili, Fra Pacifico, and the Corellia men, strove
what human strength could do to put the fire out. Even the
sindaco, forgetting the threats about his rent, labored hard and
willingly--only Silvestro did nothing. Silvestro seemed stunned; he
sat upon the ground staring, and crying like a child.
To save the rooms within the tower was impossible. Every plank of wood
was burning. The ceilings had fallen in; only the blackened walls and
stone stairs remained. The villa was untouched--the wind, setting the
other way, and the thick walls of the tower, had saved it.
Now every hand that could be spared was turned to bring beds from the
steward's for the marchesa and Enrica. They had gone into Pipa's
room until the villa was made ready. Pipa told Adamo, and he told the
others, that the marchesa had not seen the burning papers, and the
lighted pile of wood, until the flames rose high behind her back. She
had rushed forward, and fallen.
When all was over, Count Nobili was carried up the hill back to
Corellia, in triumph, on the shoulders of Pietro the baker, and
Oreste, the strongest of the brothers. Every soul of the poor
townsfolk--women as well as men who had not gone down to help--had
risen, and was out. They had put lights into their windows. They
crowded the doorways. The market-place was full, and the church-porch.
The fame of Nobili's courage had already reached them. All bless him
as he passes--bless him louder when Nobili, all aglow with happiness,
empties his pockets of all the coin he has, and promises more
to-morrow. At this the women lay hold of him, and dance round him. It
was long before he was released. At last Fra Pacifico carried him off,
almost by force, to sleep at the curato.
WHAT A PRIEST SHOULD BE.
Fra Pacifico was a dark, burly man, with a large, weather-beaten
face, kind gray eyes under a pair of shaggy eyebrows, a resolute nose,
large, full-lipped mouth, and a clean-shaven double chin, that rested
comfortably upon his priestly stock. He was no longer young, but he
had a frame like iron, and in his time he had possessed a force of
arm and muscle enough to fell an ox. His strength and daring were
acknowledged by all the mountain-folks from Corellia to Barga, hardy
fellows, and judges of what a man can do. Moreover, Fra Pacifico
was more than six feet high--and who does not respect a man of such
inches? In fair fight he had killed his man--a brigand chief--who
prowled about the mountains toward Carrara. His band had fled and
Fra Pacifico had stood with his strong feet planted on the earth,
over the edge of a rocky precipice--by which the high-road passed--and
seized a furious horse dragging a cart holding six poor souls
below. Fra Pacifico had found a shepherd of Corellia--one of his
flock--struck down by fever on a rocky peak some twenty miles distant,
and he had carried him on his back, and laid him on his bed at home.
Every one had some story to tell of his prowess, coolness, and manly
daring. When he walked along the streets, the ragged children--as
black with sun and dirt as unfledged ravens--sidled up to him, and,
looking up into his gray eyes, ran between his firm-set legs, plucked
him by the cassock, and felt in his pockets for an apple or a cake.
Then the children held him tight until he had raised them up and
Spite of the labors of the previous night (no one had worked harder),
Fra Pacifico had risen with daybreak. His office accustomed him to
little sleep. There was no time by day or night that he could call his
own. If any one was stricken with sickness in the night, or suddenly
seized for death in those pale hours when the day hovers, half-born,
over the slumbering earth, Fra Pacifico must rise and wake his
acolyte, the baker's boy, who, going late to bed, was hard to rouse.
Along with him he must grope up and down slippery steps, and along
dark alleys, bearing the Host under a red umbrella, until he had
placed it within the dying lips. If a baby was weakly, or born before
its time, and, having given one look at this sorrowful world, was
about to lose its eyes on it forever, Fra Pacifico must run out at any
moment to christen it.
There was no doctor at Corellia, the people were too poor; so Fra
Pacifico was called upon to do a doctor's duty. He must draw the teeth
of such as needed it; bind up cuts and sores; set limbs; and give
such simple drugs as he knew the nature of. He must draw up papers for
those who could not afford to pay the notary; write letters for
those who could only make a cross; hear and conceal every secret that
reached him in the confessional or on the death-bed. He must be
at hand at any hour in the twenty-four--ready to counsel, soothe,
command, and reprimand; to bless, to curse, and, if need be, to
strike, when his righteous anger rose; to fetch and carry for all,
and, poor himself, to give out of his scanty store. These were his
Fra Pacifico lived at the back of the old Lombard church of Santa
Barbara, in a house overlooking a damp square, overgrown with moss
and weeds. Between the tower where the bells hung, and the body of the
church, an open loggia (balcony), roofed with wood and tiles, rested
on slender pillars. In the loggia, Fra Pacifico, when at leisure,
would sit and rest and read his breviary; sometimes smoke a solitary
pipe--stretching out his shapely legs in the luxury of doing nothing.
Behind the loggia were the priest's four rooms, bare even for the
bareness of that squalid place. He kept no servant, but it was counted
an honor to serve him, and the mothers of Corellia came by turns to
cook and wash for him.
Fra Pacifico, as I have said, had risen at daybreak. Now he is
searching to find a messenger to send to Lucca, as the marchesa had
desired, to summon Cavaliere Trenta. That done, he takes a key out of
his pocket and unlocks the church-door. Here, kneeling at the altar,
he celebrates a private mass of thanksgiving for the marchesa and
Enrica. Then, with long strides, he descends the hill to see what is
doing at the villa.
"SAY NOT TOO MUCH."
The sun was streaming on mountain and forest before Count Nobili woke
from a deep sleep. As he cast his drowsy eyes around upon the homely
little room, the coarsely-painted frescoes on the walls--the gaudy
cups and plates arranged in a cupboard opposite the bed--and on a wax
Gesu Bambino, placed in state upon the mantel-piece, surrounded by a
flock of blue sheep, browsing on purple grass, he could not at first
remember where he was. The noises from the square below--the clink of
the donkey's hoofs upon the pavement as they struggled up the steep
alley laden with charcoal; the screams of children--the clamor of
women's voices moving to and fro with their wooden shoes--and the boom
of the church-bells sounding overhead for morning mass--came to him as
in a dream.
As he raised his hand to push back the hair which fell over his
eyes, a sharp twitch of pain--for his hands were scorched and
blistered--brought all that had happened vividly before him. A warmth
of joy and love glowed at his heart. He had saved Enrica's life.
Henceforth that life was his. From that day they would never part.
From that day, forgetting all others, he would live for her alone.
He must see her instantly--if possible, before his enemy, her aunt,
had risen--see Enrica, and speak to her, alone. Oh, the luxury of
that! How he longed to feast his eyes upon the softness of her beauty!
To fill his ears with the music of her voice! To touch her little
hand, and scent the fragrance of her breath upon his cheek! There was
no thought within Nobili but love and loyalty. At that moment Enrica
was the only woman in the world whom he loved, or ever could love!
He dressed himself in haste, opened the door, and stepped out into
the loggia. Not finding Fra Pacifico there, or in the other rooms, he
passed down the stone steps into the little square, threading his way
beyond as he best could, through the tortuous little alleys toward the
gate. Most of the men had already gone to work; but such as lingered,
or whose business kept them at home, rose as he passed, and bared
their heads to him. The mothers and the girls stared at him and
smiled; troops of children followed at his heels through the town,
until he reached the gate.
Without, the holiness of Nature was around. The morning air blew upon
him crisp and clear. The sky, blue as a turquoise, was unbroken by a
cloud. The trees were bathed in gold. The chain of Apennines rose up
before him in lines of dreamy loveliness, like another world, midway
toward heaven. A passing shower veiled the massive summits toward
Massa and Carrara, but the broad valley of the Serchio, mapped out in
smallest details, lay serenely luminous below. Beyond the gate there
was no certain road. It broke into little tracts and rocky paths
terracing downward. Following these, streams ran bubbling, sparkling
like gems as they dashed against the stones. No shadows rested upon
the grass, cooled by the dew and carpeted by flowers. The woods danced
in the October sunshine. Painted butterflies and gnats circled in the
warm air; green lizards gamboled among the rocks that cut the
turf. Flocks of autumn birds swooped round in rapid flight. Some
freshly-shorn sheep, led by a ragged child, cropped the short herbage
fragrant with strong herbs. A bristly pig carrying a bell about his
neck, ran wildly up and down the grassy slope in search of chestnuts.
Through this sylvan wilderness Nobili came stepping downward by the
little paths, like a young god full of strength and love!
The villa lay beneath him; the blackened ruins of the tower rose over
the chestnut-tops. These blackened ruins showed him which way to go.
As he set his foot upon the topmost terrace of the garden, his heart
Enrica would be there, he knew it. Enrica would be waiting for him.
Could Nobili yearn so fondly for Enrica and she not know it? Could the
mystic bond that knit them together, from the first moment they had
met, leave her unconscious of his presence? No; that subtile charm
that draws lovers together, and breathes from heart to heart the
sacred fire, had warned her. She was standing there--there, beneath
him, under the shadow of a flowery thicket. Enrica was leaning against
the trunk of a magnolia-tree, the shining leaves framing her in a rich
canopy, through which a glint of sunshine pierced, falling upon her
light hair and the white dress she wore.
Nobili paused to look at her. Miser-like, he would pause to gloat upon
his treasure! How well a golden glory would become that sunny head!
She only wanted wings, he thought, to make an angel of her. Enrica's
face was bent. Her thoughts, far away, were lost in a delicious world,
neither earth nor heaven--a world with Nobili! What mysteries were
there, what unknown joys, or sharper pains perchance, she neither knew
nor cared. She would share all with him! In a moment the place she
stood on was darkened. Something stood between her and the sun. She
looked up and gave a little cry, then stood motionless, the color
going and coming upon her cheek. One bound, and Nobili was beside her.
He strained her to him with a passion that robbed him of all words.
Scarcely knowing what he did, he grasped the tangled meshes of her
silken hair and covered them with kisses. Then he raised her soft face
in his hand, and gazed upon it long and fervently.
Enrica's plaintive eyes melted as they met his. She quivered in his
embrace. Her whole soul went out to him as she lay within his arms. He
bent his head--their trembling lips clung together in one long kiss.
Then the little golden head drooped upon his breast, and nestled
there, as if at last at home. Never before had Enrica's dainty form
yielded beneath his touch. Before, he had but clasped her little hand,
or pressed her dress, or stolen a hasty kiss on those truant locks
of hers. Now Enrica was his own, his very own. The blood shot up like
fire over his face. His eyes devoured her. As she lay encircled in his
arms, a burning blush crimsoned her cheeks. She turned away her face,
and feebly tried to loosen herself from him. Nobili only pressed her
closer. He would not let her go.
"Do not turn from me, Enrica," he softly murmured. "Would you rob me
of the rapture of my first embrace?"
There was a passionate tremor in his voice that re vibrated within her
from head to foot. Her flushed cheek grew pale as she listened.
"Heavens! how I have longed for you! How I have longed for you sitting
at home! And you so near!"
"And I have longed for you," whispered Enrica, blushing again
redder than summer roses.--Enrica was too simple to dissemble.--"O
Nobili!"--and she raised her dreamy eyes upward to his, then dropped
them again before the fire of his glance--"you cannot tell how lonely
I have been. Oh! I have suffered so much; I thought I should have
"My own Enrica, that is gone and past. Now we shall never part. I have
won you for my wife. Even the marchesa must own this. Last night the
old life died out as the smoke from that old tower. To-day you have
waked to a new life with me."
Again Nobili's arms stole round her; again he sealed the sacrament of
love with a fervid kiss.
Enrica trembled from head to foot--a scared look came over her. The